The modern Church of England, being one of the more infuriatingly reasonable and malleable of all religions, has dispatched some calmly sensible guidelines around kids, gender and bullying. Childhood, they have said to their 4,700 schools, should be a time of “creative exploration”.
If boys want to wear tiaras or tutus then, in essence, let them do their thing. “Children should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence,” the guidelines say, “They are in a ‘trying on’ stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed.”
To paraphrase, if your little boy pines to be the Christmas fairy in this year’s end of term extravaganza rather than, say, one of the Three Wise Men, then let it slide. Don’t sweat the small stuff. These neatly and kindly worded thoughts on transphobic and biphobic bullying aim to “prevent pupils …having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied.”
See, I told you today’s Church of England leans towards the relaxed and groovy. This is why so many, including myself, have stuck around so long. Even if four decades after my time at Bishop Goodwin Church of England infant and junior school, the odds of that promised “Second Coming of Christ” feel decidedly patchy. I have pertinent questions on the Virgin Birth and some of the shonkier claims surrounding the Ascension too, but, queries are where the Church of England excels. The Church of England not only relishes you doubting Christ but will give you a lovely cup of tea and some of Sheila’s tray-bake Millionaire Shortbread as they persuade you otherwise.
Today’s trans-tolerant Church of England leans much more towards a Buddhist “Let’s all try to cultivate good thoughts and love, like Jesus would” manner, rather than a fundamentalist Christian, “Your tutu wearing kid shames Christ and will burn in Satan’s pit” shtick.
So hooray for the C of E, right, and hooray for increased societal acceptance of the tedious rigidity of gender expectations! And hooray for a nod towards the existence of trans kids who may eventually make their transition, and also to the kids who just want to test boundaries by appearing on non-uniform day in a stick-on moustache, stiletto heels and a sequinned jump-suit defining themselves as “fabulous”.
If only, I often think, there had been more of this thinking in the 1980’s when the sight of Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran on Top of The Pops wearing eye-liner and a peroxide Princess Di bouffant made my father hyperventilate with intolerant ire over his Findus Crispy Pancake tea. Hooray for the modern age! Hooray for everything right?
Well, no. Observing the past decade of heady gender debate; one where arguments over “norms”, definition, equality and the ethics of surgery have never been so hotly discussed, joy in progress is rarely found. And there are trans-lobbyists, I am sure, unhappy that the C of E’s guidelines give potential for teachers to treat being transgender as something flippant or hobbyist, when for several kids a tutu or tiara is not simply a phase. Wanting to be a girl rather than a boy, they’d argue, may not be something a child will forget about like fidget spinners and homemade slime. To this, I’d plead trans supporters cut the C of E a little slack and appreciate small mercies. It took the C of E around five centuries to accept that human beings with vaginas could dish out communion wafers. It may take another decade or so before they fully accept that a vagina may not make one a woman at all.
For me, the most saddening sight following the Church of England’s guidelines was social media comments and headlines brimming with darkly familiar retro-bigotry; similar attitudes we lived through in the 70s and 80s which led to in 1987 one of the nation’s rankest historical stains, Clause 28, the banning of positive education on homosexuality.
“Our kiddies,” the bigots and the bigoted press hissed this morning at the C of E, “Are being taught to be freaks and fairies. The church needs to be less tolerant! The government too!” On breakfast news channels headlines were dissected pointing towards a future with a drag show in every infant school (a more bawdy version of Funny Girls in Blackpool, it seemed) which would teach toddlers the art of cross-dressing and funded by tax payers cash.
It takes a dark mind to hear news that the church would wish less children to be bullied into self-harming, suicide or merely leaving education, and greet this pleasant news with fetid fury and the need for “something to be done”.
But it took dark minds in 1987 to bring in laws prohibiting local authorities from positive speech on being gay or "pretended family relationships", and stop councils spending money on educational materials perceived to promote a gay lifestyle.
And if you think these examples are entirely different, or that the same types of brains who dreamed up Clause 28 aren’t in charge again, well, sweetie, you’ve really not been paying attention.
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